FACT: when we sit down to write a novel, most of us already have almost a book’s worth of notes tucked away in computer files, stored in writing apps, scribbled on notepads, or stuffed into the coffee-glazed ridges of our brain.
And honesty? This is my jam. I love the brainstorming stage because everything is still on the table.
This is my happy place. I put story puzzles pieces together, like what backstory events shaped my character and which important locations will tie into the story. It’s all about A leading to B, which leads to C.
I think about the ways characters are connected, make notes about the tasks they must complete, and hash out roadblocks I’ll put in the protagonist’s way. Creating a giant ball-pit of ideas? It’s glorious.
But then it’s time to actually write.
And my brain sort of goes, Oh crap.
It isn’t because I’m trying to pants my way into the story. I actually shifted from pantsing to plotting after seeing how much better my novels were when following story structure turning points. The Story Map and Scene Maps [Formal and Informal] tools give me what I need, so all good there.
My Problem? Searching so many notes for important information that keeps my worldbuilding consistent and supports the logic of my world.
Like, where did I list out the hierarchy of mages for the magical order the hero belongs to? Or what was the sequence of artifacts he had to find to build a weapon that will protect him from dark energy infiltrating the magic community? If I flub these up, readers will notice, so I have to make sure everything is consistent.
Trying to sift through notes for where I had jotted this information down was costing me time, and occasionally it pulled me out of the creative flow. Some information, I found, needed better organization.
Thankfully, we created Timelines at One Stop for Writers. Ironically when we built it, I was thinking of how it would help other writers with their story planning, not imagining how much this tool would also help me. But wow, does it ever work well to keep me organized!
(Okay, I have to show you. Excuse me while I geek out a bit.)
Most people think of timelines as a way to create a calendar of events that happen throughout a story…and they’d be right. It’s a handy way to plot time sensitive events, like the order of battles in a war that will put your character on the throne, or the clues your mystery sleuth discovers at crime scenes as he hunts for a serial killer:
But timelines can also be used for so much more, like charting a character’s backstory wounds to better understand why they fear Abandonment:
Or, as a way to crystallize a character’s motivation in your mind, drawing right from the Character Motivation Thesaurus entries:
Timelines are also great for grouping objects or places and the important details associated with them, especially when you’ll need to source this information throughout the story. This was my big problem!
Here it is helping me keep track of the special powers of sacred gemstones in one of my stories:
Maybe you plot using Save The Cat, or you’re a bit of a note card plotter like Michael Crichton and like to write down story events and then play around the order. Timelines work really great for this because all the boxes are “drag-able,” so you can test out different scenarios by moving things around:
Honestly, I could probably come up with a million ways to use this tool, but I think you get the gist. If you want to see more ideas of what can be tracked and organized using a timeline, there’s a list here. Between this and the Worldbuilding tool, planning story details and keeping it all organized has never been easier.
Want to give the timeline tool a whirl?
You can find it at One Stop for Writers, along with a ton of other writing resources. We have a FREE TRIAL, too!
Do you ever create timelines to help you keep your story organized? What types of things do you track? Let me know in the comments!
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.